According to AAFCO guidelines – prepared by the American government as guidance for pet food manufacturers – no-one actually knows the complete vitamin and mineral requirements of dogs or cats!
On this basis, it’s hard to say whether a ‘complete and balanced’ kibble is indeed complete and balanced, whether raw food is better for dogs than processed pet food, or whether supplements are needed for dogs. Not on a scientific basis, anyway.
Opinions among veterinarians are divided. Some will say that x brand of dog food is all your dog will ever need. Others say that you should feed a natural diet based upon their beliefs. Unfortunately, there are a number of different raw feeding groups who have different ideas. Some say you should feed whole prey and nothing else; others say you should feed a small amount of grains and vegetables alongside raw meat and bones; others say you shouldn’t feed any grains or vegetables; some say you should feed vitamins and minerals, and – you’ve guessed it – others are insistent that dogs don’t need vitamins or supplements.
For what it’s worth, I believe that some dogs need supplements, and that others do not.
All dogs need a basic diet that will deliver a good balance of nutrients. As far as I’m concerned, this means biologically appropriate food. Food that Mother Nature has designed, over the millennia, to help the species thrive. For dogs, this means raw meat, bones, fish, eggs, and a small amount of vegetables and grains.
On top of this, the dog’s genes, emotional state, and general lifestyle will determine whether or not supplements are needed.
Let’s take Vitamin C as an example. Vitamin C is manufactured by dogs in their own bodies. This makes some people say that dogs don’t need vitamin C supplements. However, C is a vitamin that feeds anti-stress hormones. When a dog is under stress (whether emotional stress, physical stress as in illness, or even stress from being a show dog or agility champion), then he will be using up his reserves of vitamin C.
If I told you that there was a magic tablet that would help your dog to stay young and supple; that it would maintain healthy bones, teeth, blood system, and sex organs; and help to prevent allergic reactions . . .
If I told you that this magic tablet would protect your dog against toxic insults - from substances like arsenic and lead which are all too common in our modern world; and that it would help him to resist infectious diseases and overcome stress . . .
And if I told you that bleeding gums, loose teeth, muscle and joint pains, weakness, gingivitis, irritability and skin, eye and nose haemorrhages might be due to the fact that he isn't given this magic tablet . . . Would you rush out and get some?
Luckily, there's nothing magic about it, for the tablet in question is the common or garden vitamin C.
Fact: every dog should be given extra vitamin C in his diet. It's one of the most important vitamins on the planet. And while you're at it, take some yourself!
Here's a few other facts about vitamin C . . . A high concentration of vitamin C is needed by the adrenal gland to produce anti-stress hormones - so if your dog is undergoing stress of any sort, extra vitamin C will be most beneficial. If he works, or takes lots of physical exercise, C will ensure the full potential of muscle energy.
Dogs with anaemia caused by iron deficiency should take vitamin C with every dose of iron supplementation. C can help dogs with respiratory problems by reducing the symptoms of attack, and by increasing resistance to bacterial and viral infections.
Malignant cancers can be treated with high doses of vitamins in addition to conventional therapy and, accordingly, C is used in bladder cancer, breast cancer (mammary tumours), and cancer of the colon. Cataracts have been proven to be prevented in humans with daily doses of vitamin B2, vitamin C and calcium. High blood cholesterol levels can be reduced by taking vitamin C.
This clever little vitamin is routinely given to (human) patients undergoing surgery and those recovering from accidental injury - why? To accelerate the healing process - because the rate of wound healing depends upon the rate of production of collagen, and collagen itself depends upon vitamin C. Some astute vets are recommending vitamin C for patients who have recently undergone surgery.
It is even thought that vitamin C can reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia. This, again, is connected to the manufacture of collagen within the body. An American vet, Dr Wendell Belfield Conducted an experiment: eight litters of German Shepherd puppies from dysplasic parents, or parents known to have produced dysplasic offspring, were given mega doses of vitamin C. The pregnant mums were given vitamin C, too. When X-rayed at two years of age, all pups were dysplasia free.
In another study, conducted by the Groruddalen Small Animal Senter in Oslo, 76 dogs of various breeds and age were given 30mgs of C-flex, a form of vitamin C, daily. All 76 dogs had either joint injuries with secondary, permanent changes; arthrosis, spondylosis hip dysplasia; older disc prolapse with secondary, permanent changes; muscle atrophication as a result of functional loss; or senile wear changes in their support and motion systems.
After one week, 76.3% had shown good improvement or were free of symptoms; this rose to 84.2% after six weeks. Conclusion: if you have a dog that limps, or an old dog with arthritis or muscular pain, then vitamin C can only help.
How much vitamin C?
Vitamin C is completely non-toxic, so it cannot harm your dog if you give him more than he needs. However, there is a simple method, called the bowel tolerance method, that will help you to work out how much C your dog needs (each dog's requirement will vary, because dogs produce varying amounts of their own vitamin C in the body).
Large amounts of vitamin C will cause diarrhoea in a dog. This is not dangerous - simply reduce the dose and the diarrhoea stops. Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means that any excess will leave the body with the dog's urine.
A daily supplement of vitamin C at the rate of about 50-100mg per kilogram your dog weighs will do no harm and can only ensure the continuing good health of your dog.
Ian Billinghurst, an Australian vet and author of 'Give Your Dog a Bone', says that a dog undergoing slight stress should be fed 100mg per kg; moderately stressed dogs should be given 200mg per kg; those suffering heavy stress should be given 300mg per kg; and those subject to very heavy stress should have 350mg of vitamin C per kg of their own weight.
There are several forms of vitamin C: ascorbic acid is the common form. The two common salts of vitamin C are sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate. Mostly it doesn't matter which form you give your dog, although a dog with arthritis would benefit more from calcium ascorbate or sodium ascorbate; and you wouldn't give sodium ascorbate to a dog with heart problems because of the presence of sodium. In a young dog with hip dysplasia due to calcium excess, you would not give calcium ascorbate.
Vitamin C, in all its forms, can be purchased from your local health shop. Tablets come in varying strengths - if you are giving your dog large doses of vitamin C, then the dosage should be divided throughout the day. (It all sounds very complicated, but it's easy once you get started - simply weigh your dog and this will give you a rough idea of how much to give. Increase or reduce the amount according to the bowel tolerance method.)
Other important vitamins and minerals:
In the wild, dogs were able to roam around and choose the food they most needed, so that they could take in the wide variety of vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good health. Domestic animals, however, rely upon what we give them. Although commercial dog foods do contain vitamins and minerals, they contain only enough for the average dog.
For example, a dog undergoing surgical or traumatic stress, or trying to fight off an infectious disease, will need mega doses of vitamin C. Similarly, extra vitamin C prior to, during and after mating will promote your dog's immune system and it's general resistance to disease. It will also help to reduce or eliminate infertility and birth problems. Vitamin C during pregnancy aids in promoting an easy, rapid, stress-free birth.
Vitamin E is another anti-aging vitamin - Ian Billinghurst believes it should be a criminal offence to not give an old dog extra vitamin E! It is an 'anti-oxidant', or 'anti-degeneration' vitamin. It plays a major role in retarding the aging process, treating heart disease, preventing blood clots and therefore strokes in older dogs, disease resistance, healthy reproduction, and in protecting against the toxic effects of heavy metals.
A safe abundant supplementary dose of vitamin E for a dog would be from 10 to 20mg per kg - that is, for a 25kg dog, 250 to 500mg per day. Although there are virtually no known side effects caused by massive doses of vitamin E, one exception is high blood pressure. Older dogs with impaired hearts may already have high blood pressure - they will benefit from vitamin E, so give low doses to start with, working up gradually the dose matches your dog's body weight.
The B complex group of vitamins, like vitamin C, are water- soluble, meaning that you cannot overdose on them.
The B vitamins are vital for a healthy immune system - helping to prevent cancer, arthritis, allergies, and so on - and they also help to prevent aging and degeneration of tissues. Dogs with insufficient B vitamins are generally lethargic and lacking in energy, and may also be prone to be fatties.
B vitamins have a generally calming effect and help to fight stress. They are involved in all phases of growth, reproduction and repair of body tissues, and are necessary for the health of the entire body including the production and maintenance of blood, skin, hair and sweat glands, as well as the eyes and tongue.
Brewers yeast is an excellent source of the B vitamins, and it also contains Selenium which, again, boosts the immune system, treats arthritis, and prevents cataracts. However, some dogs might be allergic to Brewers yeast, especially if they (maybe unbeknownst to you) already have a yeast overgrowth. Introduce gradually and observe.
So, in summary, give your dog extra vitamins C and E (following the above dosage recommendations); supplement with brewer's yeast . . . and add a crushed clove of garlic to your dog's food each day. The garlic will further strengthen his immune system, keep infections at bay, and it's also an excellent flea and worm repellent.
Remember, commercial dog foods are designed for the average dog - and extra C and B will not harm him. Rather, they will help him to live to a healthy, pain-free old age.
To contradict myself …
I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw supplements at your dog for the sake of it. Some of the vitamins are toxic if given in excess. Rather, I believe in using God’s own nutrients therapeutically. That is, helping your dog (and yourself) – with nutrients – to overcome diseases of malnutrition. Check out the functions of the following nutrients, and also what happens to them if you cook or freeze them:
Best Food Sources
|Sight, skin, mucous membranes, anti-infective, protein synthesis, bones, anti-anaemia, growth||Spinal infections, respiratory infections, scaly skin and scalp, poor hair quality, poor sight, burning and itching eyes, dry eyes||Halibut liver oil, liver, butter, cheese, eggs|
|Helps convert glucose into energy in muscles and nerves||Easy fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, digestive upsets, constipation, irritability, depression, poor memory, lack of concentration||Brewers yeast, brown rice, wheatgerm, wheat bran, oatflakes, liver, wholemeal bread|
|Helps convert protein, fats and sugars into energy. Needed to repair and maintain body tissue||Bloodshot eyes, tired eyes, light sensitivity, cracks and sores in corners of mouth, hair loss, trembling, insomnia, slow learning||Brewers yeast, liver, wheatgerm, cheese, eggs, wheatbran, meats, yogurt, milk, green vegetables|
|Production of energy. Production of anti-stress hormones. Controls fat metabolism. Formation of antibodies. Maintaining nerves. Detoxifying drugs.||Loss of appetite, indigestion, abdominal pain. Respiratory infections. Fatigue, insomnia, depression, psychosis, headaches. Puppies starved of B5 died when vaccinated||Brewers yeast, pig’s liver, pig’s kidney, nuts, wheatbran, eggs, poultry, meats, wholegrains, beans, vegetables|
|Needed for formation of brain substances and nerve impulse transmitters. Blood formation. Energy production. Anti-depressant, anti-allergy.||Inflamed tongue, inflamed nerve endings, migraine, mild depression, irritability, swollen abdomen||Brewer’s yeast, wheatbran, wheatgerm, oatflakes, pig’s liver, bananas, wholewheat, nuts, meats, fatty fish, brown rice, potatoes, vegetables, eggs|
|Needed for synthesis of DNA, the basis of all body cells. Maintains healthy myelin sheath. Detoxifies cyanide in food and tobacco smoke||Sore tongue. Nerve degeneration causing tremors, psychosis, mental deterioration. Menstrual disorders, pernicious anaemia||Pig’s liver, pig’s kidney, fatty fish, pork, beef, lamb, white fish, eggs, cheese, spirulina algae|
|Anti-oxidant, iron absorption, healthy collagen, resistance to infection. Controls blood cholesterol levels. Activates folic acid. Produces anti-stress hormones. Produces brain and nerve substances||Weakness, muscle and joint pains, irritability, bleeding gums, gingivitis, loosening of teeth, haemorrhages in skin, eyes, nose||Rosehip syrup, blackcurrants, parsley, kale, horseradish, broccoli, green peppers|
|Promotes absorption of calcium and phosphate from the food||Delayed ability to stand, bone pain, muscular weakness and spasms, brittle bones||Cod liver oil, kippers, mackerel, canned salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, milk|
|Antioxidant, reduces oxygen needs of muscles, maintains healthy blood vessels||Irritability, water retention, haemolytic anaemia, lack of vitality, lethargy, apathy, lack of concentration, decreased sexual interest, muscle weakness||Cod liver oil, shrimps, olive oil, Greenleaf vegetables, pulses, tomatoes, meats, fruits, root vegetables|
|Control of blood clotting||Usually in newborn, and include: excessive bleeding from stomach, intestine, umbilical stump||Cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, pig’s liver, cabbage, tomatoes, string beans, beef liver, meat, potatoes, beans|